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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 9, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 16, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Pentecost 17 Proper 20B September 19, 2021

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Our opening reading is the ending of the book of Proverbs. Scholars tell us that this passage was written in the period following the Babylonian Exile, some twenty-six hundred years ago. Some scholars tell us that it is best to ignore this passage because it was written so long ago, in a time when women and children were thought of as chattel, property, objects to be owned.

As we look at this passage, it is quite contemporary. Neil Elliott notes that this woman, “runs a household (v. 15), conducts her own real estate transactions( v.16), works out  (v.17), makes charitable contributions (v. 20), holds her own in public discourse, (v. 26), maintains a healthy relationship with integrity (vv. 11, 29), and even gets the credit for her husband’s rising status (v. 26)! (Elliott, New Proclamation Year B, 2000, p. 72.)

Gene M. Tucker writes, “Above all, she is by no means limited to traditional roles within the family, for she has significant public and economic roles. She is a capable merchant (v. 14) and businesswoman (vv. 18-29, 24), both producing and selling goods. She invests in real estate and improves it (v. 16). In short, virtually the only significant role she does not fulfill in her society is to sit with the elders in the gate (v. 23). (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 414.)

The revised Common Lectionary was created in order to include in our readings passages about women and other marginalized people. Often these passages show us that progress toward seeing and respecting the dignity of every human being was being made, even in those long ago centuries.

Our reading from James is full of gems. We are called to act with “gentleness born of wisdom.” We are called to stay away from “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” James says these qualities are “earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” We know that envy and ambition can lead to ruthless competition and conflict. James says they can even lead to murder.

But James tells us that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, then gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,” What a different world we live in when we have these qualities of peace, gentleness, willingness to talk and work with each other for the common good. James advises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” The qualities James is calling us to live by are the values of God’s shalom, God’s peaceable kingdom.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what is going to happen to him. He is going to be betrayed and killed, and he is going to rise from the dead. They had no idea what he was taking about, and the text says that they were “afraid to ask him.” This may remind us of times when we’ve been in a class and were totally confused but were even more afraid of letting the teacher know how confused we actually were, so we just stayed silent.

They arrive in Capernaum and go into the house, and he asks them what they were arguing about while they were walking along. We discover that they were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. This gives us a clue that perhaps they were thinking of the messiah in one of the ways that was common in those days: as an earthly king who would gather an army and defeat the Roman Empire and bring in a new kingdom. It would make sense to wonder who would be sitting next to this earthly king when he was on his throne.

But there was another concept of who the messiah is, and that is the messiah as a servant.  Some call him the suffering servant as portrayed in Isaiah.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that if we want to follow him, we have to be the servants of all and last of all. We can’t be trying to figure out who is the greatest. We can’t be competing for power. We are called to be servants. We are called to walk the Way of Love.

And then he gently, lovingly picks up a little child and holds the little one in his arms. As we look in on this scene, we need to remember that in our Lord’s time, children, like women, were seen as chattel, possessions, something you owned. They were not highly valued.

And Jesus is saying that we need to welcome these little ones; we need to welcome the vulnerable ones who have no power, no wealth, no influence, no voice, those whom folks see as less than fully human. And he is saying that, if we welcome these people, we welcome Jesus and we also are welcoming God.

Thank you for all the ministries you are all doing which involve helping other people in so many ways, whether it is at the food shelf or in other ministries of servanthood. When we are helping others, showing love and care to others, we are  showing that love to our Lord. That is what he is telling us today. May our loving God bless you in all your ministries. Amen.

Palm Sunday Year B March 28, 2021

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:32—15:39

Our reading from Isaiah dates back to the end of the Babylonian Exile, 539 B.C.E. The people of God had been in exile for fifty to sixty years. Scholars tell us that they really don’t know the exact identity of this prophet. We call him the Second Isaiah. He writes,“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may  know how to sustain the weary with a word.” Whatever message God gave this person to share with God’s people, things did not go well. He suffered. Biblical scholar Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta writes that this courageous prophet offered “a new understanding that seems to have arisen out of the painful experience of the Exile. Through the darkness of the Exile, Second Isaiah could see a light. He and other faithful ones also realized that the suffering of some, or even of one, could benefit others, perhaps even the whole world.” (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, pp.169-170.)

Paul wrote the Letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. Both he and the followers of Jesus in Philippi were suffering persecution. Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” He tells us that our Lord, “emptied himself taking the form of a slave.” 

We are nearing the end of our Exile. In Christ, we have a teacher and a leader who can “sustain the weary with a word.” If we are called to “be of one mind with our Lord,” of what do we need to empty ourselves? What do we need to let go of? How can we serve others more fully, more lovingly? If we empty ourselves, with what are we going to fill ourselves? I would suggest that we fill ourselves with the presence and love of God. That we let God sustain us with God’s word, God’s presence, God’s Holy Spirit.

I think that we, like our brothers and sisters who went through the Exile, have learned some things about suffering. Over five hundred forty-eight thousand people have died of Covid-19 in our country alone; 2.77 million fellow human beings in our world; 224 of our fellow Vermonters have died of this disease. Through our exile and especially our fast, we have learned what a gift it is to gather together and share Holy Eucharist, exchange the Peace, hug each other, sing together, pray together, and receive together the Body and Blood of Christ, the heavenly food which sustains us. We have also learned that we can adapt, call on those among us who have the gifts to work with virtual media, and stay connected during a time of pandemic.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” In St. Paul’s time, the mind meant not only logical thought, but the will, intentions, intuition, and imagination. Our Lord emptied himself of all pride and earthly power and became a loving servant to others. Charles Cousar writes, “[Our] entire identity—our intuitions, sensitivities, imaginations—[are] to be shaped by the self-giving activity of Christ.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year B, p, 246.) During this Exile, I have seen all of you caring about and serving others in many ways. I have also felt the deep love you have for God and for each other.

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love this Holy Week. Like the Second Isaiah toward the end of the Exile, we are looking beyond the suffering and we are seeing light.  As we see this marvelous light, I also ask that we continue to follow the guidance of our medical experts. 

Blessed Lord Jesus, our Savior and our Good Shepherd, thank you for leading and guiding us though this especially tragic and challenging time. Give us the grace to keep following you, to walk the Way of the Cross, to be faithful to you, to stay awake with you, to stand at the foot of the cross to be with you, and to be there on Easter morning as you burst forth from that tomb to defeat even death itself. Amen. 

Advent 1 Year B November 29. 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

In our opening reading from Isaiah, we are with Isaiah and God’s people at a crucial moment in their history. They are returning from exile in Babylon. They have been in exile for some fifty years, studying the scriptures, praying, keeping the community together and hoping for the day when they would be able to return. They have thought it would be a time of great joy.

When they arrive, they find that the temple has been destroyed. The city walls have been torn down. Foreign people are living as squatters in the ruins of the temple. For decades, they had hoped and prayed that they would be able to return. That was the hope that kept them together. But now that they are in Jerusalem and, seeing that their beloved temple and city are little more than a huge pile of rubble, they are realizing the enormity of the task that lies before them.

In the face of the enormity of the task, Isaiah and the people are overwhelmed. They are at the point of despair. How will they begin the mammoth task of rebuilding? Where will they begin? Isaiah calls out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” 

Isaiah is recalling the time centuries before when God came down from heaven at Mount Sinai to give the people the law and lead them out of slavery.  God was with them every step of the way. It seems to Isaiah that God has withdrawn from the people, and so they have sinned. Isaiah confesses on behalf of all the people and then he tells God, “You are our Father and we are your people.” 

All these centuries later, we are not being called to rebuild Jerusalem, but we are facing a very difficult task. We are facing a time that is usually full of joy—Thanksgiving and Christmas—a time when we love to be with our families. This year, we cannot do that. Our own governor’s staff has predicted that if we aren’t careful, we could have 3,800 people come down with Covid and 40 to 50 people in the hospital, These figures are staggering, far higher than we have experienced at any time during this wilderness journey, this exile from our church building, this long fast from the Eucharist.

In his press briefing this past Tuesday, Governor Scott said that he knows he can’t make us do the things that will defeat the virus—have Thanksgiving dinner only with the people who live under our roof, don’t travel, and continue to do the things we have been doing—six foot spaces, masks on faces, avoid crowded places—but he is asking us to do these things. Our Presiding Bishop is calling us to walk the Way of Love—doing all of these things out of love for each other so everyone can be safe. And our governor says often that he knows this is hard. We all have Pandemic Fatigue. We’re tired of this and we just want to go back to normal. Experts tell us that we’re experiencing quite a bit of depression and anxiety these days.

We might pray, “O, loving God, please come down here and help us. This virus is getting ahead of us.” Rather similar to Isaiah’s prayer.

But then we stop and think. God has come to be with us. That was the first Advent. A little baby was born in Bethlehem, a little, out of the way place like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Fairfield or Franklin. Why did God come among us? Because God loves us more than we could possibly understand or imagine.

Jesus lived a human life, grew up helping his foster father in his carpenter shop, and then he called twelve people together and went all around healing, forgiving, and teaching people about God’s kingdom of love and peace, God’s shalom. And he invited everyone to be a part of his family—a very big family—and to help him build his shalom.

We have all answered his call to follow him and help him build his kingdom, his shalom. Right now, people are really hurting with this pandemic, and we are feeding them at our food shelf. And we are trying to do all we can to help our brothers and sisters because he has told us that if we help them, we are helping him. The more peace and love and compassion we can share, the closer his kingdom comes. So he doesn’t have to tear down the heavens and come down. He is already here in our midst. What our governor and all good leaders are calling us to do, our risen and present Lord is leading and guiding us to do.

He has told us he will come again to complete his kingdom, to bring in fully his shalom of peace, compassion, and justice. We do not know exactly when that is going to happen. And in many parts of the gospel he tells us not to try to figure that out. Only God knows when that will happen.

In today’s gospel, He says, “Keep awake.” This does not mean that we have to stay up all night. He wants us to be healthy, especially in these stressful times, so we need to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. But he wants us to be ready to receive his kingdom. He wants us to be prepared for his kingdom. When he comes, he wants us to be ready to meet him, welcome him with great joy, and help him complete his work of creation.

And he wants us to live like kingdom people, to feed the hungry and give clothing to those who need it and love people and help people as if they were Christ himself. We are in that in-between time between his first coming as a baby and his second coming as our King, and he wants us to be about the work of building his shalom now.

Like God’s people coming home from the exile, we are facing a major challenge. We are called to do what is necessary to beat this virus, and we are called to build, not a temple, but the shalom of God.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being in our midst. Thank you for calling us to help you build your kingdom. Give us the grace to follow you, to walk the Way of Love, and to be ready to follow where you lead us. In your holy Name. Amen.

Christ the King Year A November 22, 2020

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our opening reading today takes us back to the time of the Babylonian Exile. Twenty-six hundred years ago (597 B.C.E.) the powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and sent God’s people into exile in Babylon. Eleven years later, (586 B.C.E), the Babylonians returned, destroyed the temple, and leveled many of the surrounding buildings.

Ezekiel, a priest, had been in Babylon with the people for about eleven years. The destruction of the temple was one of the most tragic points in the history of God’s people. It was heartbreaking.

We have often reflected on how the history of God’s people as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures reflects on and parallels our own history. As we read about this low point in their life together, we here in Vermont are losing our battle with Covid-19. Once again I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine, who had to stand before us this week and let us know that the positivity rate is up to two percent, hospitalizations are rising, and we need to reverse this trend. The reason these numbers are rising is that folks are getting together socially, eating, drinking, and enjoying each others’ company without wearing masks or social distancing. Our governor said that he hasn’t seen his mother in a year. As a good leader, he understands how we all feel. As he encouraged us to wear masks and do all the other things that we know stop the virus from spreading, Governor Scott acknowledged that he cannot make people follow the guidance from our medical experts.

He spoke with courage and sincerity to those who refuse to follow the guidance, and I quote him. Don’t call it patriotic. Don’t pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened. And right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not by the  protections we put in place.” (Gov. Phil Scott, Press Briefing, Tuesday, November 17, 2020.)

This Corona Virus is killing as many people as an invading army. We heard this week that we have exceeded the number of deaths we suffered in World War II. In may ways, we can identify with our spiritual ancestors in Babylon. The Babylonian Exile is an excellent metaphor for this pandemic. In this dark moment, in this time of utter discouragement, God puts God’s words in the mouth of Ezekiel. God is going to be a good shepherd to God’s people. God is going to feed them and take care of them. God is going to  bring God’s people back together and bring them home. And God has a special word for leaders who have been abusive to the people. God will stop them from misusing their power. God directly addresses those who “pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with [their] horns.” God will feed them with justice. God will set things right. God will bring the people a wise and compassionate leader like King David. As Christians, we immediately think of our King, Jesus. In these dark days of increasing positivity rates, we have  compassionate leaders in Governor Scott and his team. May we all follow their directions.

In our gospel for today, we have the blueprint for why we all gathered together and built a new building for the food shelf and why our wonderful volunteers gather six days a week to minister to our neighbors who are suffering from this pandemic. People have lost their jobs. Unemployment benefits have run out.  Extensions have expired, and there is no help forthcoming. People who have never been to the food shelf find that they have to come for help.

Our Lord tells us that when we give food to those who are hungry, we are feeding him. When we give water to the thirsty, or welcome to the stranger, or clothing to those who need it, we give those things to Jesus. When we take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing that to him. We are the hands of Christ reaching out in love to help others. And every person we meet is an alter Christus, an other Christ. There is a spark of the divine in every person. Our Lord is telling us to see every person we meet as Himself, as Christ.

Christ is our King, but a very different kind of king. He eats with the lowest of the low. He loves the people nobody loves. In his kingdom, everybody is infinitely precious. Everybody is loved. This is God’s shalom.

Our retired Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes: 

That word “shalom” is usually translated as “peace,’ but it’s a far richer and deeper understanding of peace than we usually recognize. …It isn’t just telling two arguers to get over their differences.

Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts  with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.  (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and A Prayer, p. 33.)

Today we celebrate Christ the King and we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” He prays for them and us that  “eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.” What a great metaphor, Paul is praying that the light of Christ’s love may come into our hearts and lives and lift our hearts and spirits so that our hearts and lives may become full of light and love, and that we may be filled with hope. I think that lifting of our hearts is like the hope that came to God’s people 2,500 years ago as they faced the destruction of their beloved temple, the center of their worship. They believed that God dwelled in the temple, and they came to realize that God was in their midst. God gave them the hope and determination to return and rebuild.

We have so much to be thankful for, The attitude of gratitude is a very powerful thing. It is a power for good. In these dark days of Covid, our own exile from Holy Eucharist, our Exile from our beloved church building, our Good Shepherd is here in our midst. We thank you for your presence, O Lord, and we thank you for leading us and guiding us. We will celebrate Thanksgiving, with your help. We will help and feed our neighbors. We will, with your grace, help you build your shalom.

Here, in these darkest days of the pandemic, give us the grace to get back on track. Our own governor has had to remind us that not wearing a mask is not patriotic. Send your love among us, O Lord, that we may love you and love each other, that we may take care of each other, as you our Good Shepherd, take care of your flock. Amen.

Advent 4 December 23, 2018

Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 15 The Song of Mary p. 91
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

All through Advent, our readings from the Hebrew scriptures have proclaimed hope in the face of daunting, even devastating circumstances. The author of this morning’s first reading is Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, whose ministry took place between 740 and 701 B.C.E. This was during the time that the Assyrians conquered neighboring areas and finally captured Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.

It is possible that our reading is addressing that horrible defeat by King Sennacherib of Assyria, but many scholars think this portion of Micah’s book was actually added later, at the time of the Babylonian Exile.

At a time of crushing defeat and suffering, God is going to raise up a liberating king, not from Jerusalem, the center of everything for God’s people, but from little Bethlehem, the city of David. That king, according to Micah or a later editor, “shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.” For us, that king is Jesus.

Just before our gospel reading for today, we read about the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the Savior. Gabriel also tells Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, is now pregnant. In announcing the births of both Jesus and John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel says, “With God, nothing is impossible.”

Directly after her encounter with Gabriel, Mary does a very wise thing. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary has the wisdom to know that she and Elizabeth are having unique experiences that are going to be challenging. Elizabeth is having a baby when she is far past the usual childbearing years. Mary is having a baby when she is engaged, but not yet married. In both cases, tongues are sure to wag.

Scholars point out that Luke usually takes great care to tell us exactly when and where things happen, but in this case, the village is not named. Mary enters the house,  greets Elizabeth, and little John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. Elizabeth bursts into a song of praise that will later become the beginning of the Hail, Mary. She then addresses her cousin as “the mother of my Lord.” Both Elizabeth and her son recognize that they are meeting their Savior. Even in the womb John the Baptist recognizes and honors Jesus.

Then Mary sings her song of praise, the Magnificat, which is a poetic and prophetic blueprint of God’s Shalom. God scatters the proud in the imaginations of their hearts. God brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. Valleys are exalted, and hills are made low. God feeds the hungry. The reign of God turns things upside down.

God is doing a new thing, and these two women from little out of the way places are the ones God has chosen to give birth to this new order. They are already cousins, members of a large extended family, and they are going to become sisters in faith. We all need support when we are responding to God’s call. We all need friends and sisters and brothers in the faith when God calls us to do a new thing, to walk a path that no one has ever walked before. Mary and Elizabeth were able to offer each other that support.

“With God, nothing is impossible,” says the angel Gabriel. In many ways, we are quite similar to God’s people under attack from either the Assyrians of the Babylonians. There is growing evidence of an attack by Russia designed to fragment our country and turn us against each other. Climate change is a huge threat to our planet. Violence is everywhere. And on and on it goes. And yet…

We pray today that our Lord Jesus Christ “may, at his coming, find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” “With God nothing is impossible.” May we make room for God. May we be a people of hope. May we help to build God’s shalom.  Amen.